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Anne Sexton: A Biography

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Anne Sexton began writing poetry at the age of twenty-nine to keep from killing herself. She held on to language for dear life and somehow -- in spite of alcoholism and the mental illness that ultimately led her to suicide -- managed to create a body of work that won a Pulitzer Prize and that still sings to thousands of readers. This exemplary biography, which was nominate Anne Sexton began writing poetry at the age of twenty-nine to keep from killing herself. She held on to language for dear life and somehow -- in spite of alcoholism and the mental illness that ultimately led her to suicide -- managed to create a body of work that won a Pulitzer Prize and that still sings to thousands of readers. This exemplary biography, which was nominated for the National Book Award, provoked controversy for its revelations of infidelity and incest and its use of tapes from Sexton's psychiatric sessions. It reconciles the many Anne Sextons: the 1950s housewife; the abused child who became an abusive mother; the seductress; the suicide who carried "kill-me pills" in her handbag the way other women carry lipstick; and the poet who transmuted confession into lasting art.


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Anne Sexton began writing poetry at the age of twenty-nine to keep from killing herself. She held on to language for dear life and somehow -- in spite of alcoholism and the mental illness that ultimately led her to suicide -- managed to create a body of work that won a Pulitzer Prize and that still sings to thousands of readers. This exemplary biography, which was nominate Anne Sexton began writing poetry at the age of twenty-nine to keep from killing herself. She held on to language for dear life and somehow -- in spite of alcoholism and the mental illness that ultimately led her to suicide -- managed to create a body of work that won a Pulitzer Prize and that still sings to thousands of readers. This exemplary biography, which was nominated for the National Book Award, provoked controversy for its revelations of infidelity and incest and its use of tapes from Sexton's psychiatric sessions. It reconciles the many Anne Sextons: the 1950s housewife; the abused child who became an abusive mother; the seductress; the suicide who carried "kill-me pills" in her handbag the way other women carry lipstick; and the poet who transmuted confession into lasting art.

30 review for Anne Sexton: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Focusing in particular upon the poet's rise to literary stardom, Anne Sexton is a carefully constructed biography that overviews the life of one of the most engaging American writers of the midcentury. In terms of structure and style, Middlebrook takes few risks with her work; the biographer's decision to draw from Sexton's therapy tapes in characterizing her subject, though, has generated controversy since she first published the biography in 1991. Something might be gained from considering exc Focusing in particular upon the poet's rise to literary stardom, Anne Sexton is a carefully constructed biography that overviews the life of one of the most engaging American writers of the midcentury. In terms of structure and style, Middlebrook takes few risks with her work; the biographer's decision to draw from Sexton's therapy tapes in characterizing her subject, though, has generated controversy since she first published the biography in 1991. Something might be gained from considering excerpts of the tapes, but as many feminist critics have noted, the biography's over-reliance on the gesture paints a portrait of a woman controlled by neurotic impulses, obscuring to some extent the importance of Sexton's artistic accomplishment.

  2. 5 out of 5

    tee

    An interesting read, to say the least. About 8 or 9 years ago, several of my friends, after reading some pieces I wrote, said that my words reminded them of Sexton. I had never heard of her but at some point bought a volume of her collected works. Flicking through it one day last year, I realised I needed to know who this woman was so that I could understand what force drove the poems. This book certainly helped me understand the force and a lot of the imagery that Sexton uses in her work. And n An interesting read, to say the least. About 8 or 9 years ago, several of my friends, after reading some pieces I wrote, said that my words reminded them of Sexton. I had never heard of her but at some point bought a volume of her collected works. Flicking through it one day last year, I realised I needed to know who this woman was so that I could understand what force drove the poems. This book certainly helped me understand the force and a lot of the imagery that Sexton uses in her work. And now I also understand what my friends saw in me, that they also saw in her. It wasn't particularly my poorly written teenage-angst prose that drew the comparison, but I think, eerily, they saw the beginnings of the same illnesses and struggles that Sexton went through, in me. It's with sadness and a little fear that I even admit this. It's a frightening thing to be reading someone's story and relating, when you know that they were known to be quite mad and troubled. Middlebrook, the biographer, wrote a really tight biography. Sometimes I felt that she leant too heavily on the literary-criticism side of things, but I tend to be one who'd prefer to know what breakfast cereal someone ate rather than whether they thought that their poetry was any good. For a lot of the book I even felt as though Middlebrook felt a certain disdain, and even dislike of Anne - understandable in many ways - particularly once I discovered that Anne was an incest perpetrator herself - something that totally stunned and disgusted me, and has really quite changed my opinion of her. It's apparent that she was a troubled woman, perhaps even verging on complete madness but I find it quite shocking that it seems as though everyone tolerated, and even condoned her behaviour, something that certainly probably fed the mania and encouraged it. People bowed to Sexton's every demand, whim and fancy and when things didn't go her way, she had tantrums, breakdowns or attempted suicide. Reading this, as I've written it, paints her as a vapid, immature crackpot - but when you look deeper, and there were so many layers to this woman, you see that she was an incredilby complex person - something that access to her psychiatrist's tapes show immeasurably. It's a funny thing that even after reading this biography and feeling like I know her so much more intimately, that I also feel that Middlebrook still only scratched the surface. I think Sexton did a terribly good job of burying herself deep under all those layers, the "fugue states" must have been a necessary behaviour in order to have a rest from simply being her! Middlebrook herself is a fabulous writer, her personal analysis and critique of Anne's poetry always succinct. I enjoyed the beginning of the book better, it was more in depth about Anne's personal and family life, than in the latter half - where it felt as though Middlebrook lacked interest in not only Anne's poetic works, but her personal life. Other things came out of this book for me; thankfulness that I live in an era where mental issues aren't simply written off as "hysteria", that we have better support for persons with addiction but also a sadness that poetry isn't as big as it was in the 1960's and 70's, and also too - that "madness" isn't as often used as a driving force behind creativity, but rather is something to be contained, controlled and completely squashed. I say that tentatively, I know that Anne had a negative impact on many lives and that today too, many people are adversely affected by mental illness, I myself am all too well aware of this, but without that "madness" we wouldn't have had the work that sits beside me in her collected works. I think sometimes the destructive, fuck-it-all, side of me just longs for the day when crazy folk were let free to be crazy; they accumlated in poet's hangouts, sang their beautiful words, smoked countless cigarettes, popped numerous tranquilisers and drank gallons of whiskey - lived, hard, fast and intensely. I think I would have been one of them, or at least a groupie. These days, it seems as though the most highly-praised written work comes from the educated, the sedated and the repressed. Not always, but mostly. Anyway, it would have been a blast to have known this woman in person, albeit tiring; bucketloads of intensity, humour, charisma, drama, she lived life to the hilt - as it was said upon her death. And having read Middlebrook's analysis of her poems, and the woman behind them - I will now be able to understand her poetry infinitely more. I don't know if that's entirely a good thing, but I'm thankful someone took the time to explore this fascinating, self-absorbed, talented woman. We all know, Anne would be loving the attention.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    It's a bit hard to imagine what another Anne Sexton biography might look like. I read this for the first time maybe two or three years ago, and remember thinking: 'what else could I possibly find out about AS's life?' This time around, however, I began to notice subjective directions Middlebrook had taken, paths, perhaps, another biographer would more powerfully emphasize or maybe ignore altogether. You can certainly hear the preference for a pseudo-psychoanalytic reading of her life and poetry It's a bit hard to imagine what another Anne Sexton biography might look like. I read this for the first time maybe two or three years ago, and remember thinking: 'what else could I possibly find out about AS's life?' This time around, however, I began to notice subjective directions Middlebrook had taken, paths, perhaps, another biographer would more powerfully emphasize or maybe ignore altogether. You can certainly hear the preference for a pseudo-psychoanalytic reading of her life and poetry in this biography; Middlebrook (also a literary critic) often employs the poems to 'illuminate' Anne's psyche at moments in her experience, or likewise proposes critical readings of the writing that are entirely dependent on the factual/historical details that correspond with their production. Which isn't to say that we all don't do this sort of reading, especially when handling confessional poetry, but that Middlebrook's style sometimes implies that such readings are self-evident, rather than inevitably partial, and often flawed. Not to mention, some things felt shadowy to me on this reading, where before they seemed obvious. But this time I think: why is Kayo such a non-presence in the biography? He makes vague appearances, but at the end, Middlebrook insists that AS's life fell apart because of her divorce from Kayo, who was the foundation of her stability. Yet, we only rarely receive 'insight' into his feelings on the marriage, his motivations and desires for the many years they were together. I felt I knew Kayo's mother (AS's mother-in-law) better than I 'knew' him in the biography. Or the various lovers, whose relationships with her always made 'sense' in the way Middlebrook depicted them. In any case, I'm just picking on minor issues, and ones maybe only noticeable to me now because I've since worked through about a million Sexton-penned or related works, and feel I have a better sense of the 'big picture.' This is a fabulous biography. Where some figures in it seem somewhat concealed (like Kayo, like AS's parents, except in their spectral presence for Anne, like her daughter Joy), the benefit is that you truly feel you've immersed yourself in Anne; she is at the center, she is the star, she is ever-present in this biography. In that way, it seems appropriate, considering the many many accounts of her star-presence, the way she always insisted on being the shining light wherever she went--the actress-y allure that drew so many people to her. Middlebrook is always engaging, a really wonderful writer, and importantly, presents Sexton flaws-and-all. She doesn't shy away from presenting the abuses Sexton subjected her daughters too; she doesn't hide the raging addictions Sexton suffered in the latter half of her career. Though I found some of her value judgments frustrating (it seems Middlebrook thinks nothing after "Love Poems" is really worth discussion, and so the last 4-5 years of Sexton's life are given short shrift, to my mind), she does try to portray the good and the bad from a somewhat 'objective' stance--or at least from a stance that allows the reader to make their own judgments. This is getting long. On the whole, just a wonderful biography--maybe not comprehensive (what bio could be?), but wonderfully written, sensitive, with a profound focus on the writing and a toning down of the sensationalist aspects of her life that would have been mere fodder for other biographers. Maybe no other biography I've read has given me as great a sense of the figure at the center--I feel as though, in some ways, I 'know' Anne Sexton now. There are some ethical issues surrounding this bio--Middlebrook used therapy tapes from AS and Martin Orne's work together (which the family, and many other analysts, found to be completely unethical), but I tend to agree with both DM and Orne inasmuch as I firmly believe Anne would have allowed the use of the tapes, if she thought it would help anyone. Middlebrook's biography of Plath is incredible, too--check "Her Husband" out if you get the chance. Possibly the best Plath bio out there. The Sexton one, however, comes much recommended, even if you're not all that into AS's work--it's a great read, either way.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Casey Kiser

    “My goals may be unrealistic- but how can i find the limit of what I can do if I am satisfied with mediocrity? In the field I have chosen , to be halfway is to be nothing. There is no point in being half a poet. [... My] poetry has got to be so good that people who shrug will read and not forget the feeling of their shrug.” In poetry, Sexton found a true and proper home for her powers of invention. Through “ the talking cure” she came to understand that the symptoms of her mental illness were lu “My goals may be unrealistic- but how can i find the limit of what I can do if I am satisfied with mediocrity? In the field I have chosen , to be halfway is to be nothing. There is no point in being half a poet. [... My] poetry has got to be so good that people who shrug will read and not forget the feeling of their shrug.” In poetry, Sexton found a true and proper home for her powers of invention. Through “ the talking cure” she came to understand that the symptoms of her mental illness were luke metaphors, encoding meanings rich with personal history.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kate Forsyth

    Anne Sexton is an American poet most famous for her intense, shocking and autobiographical poems and for having committed suicide, much like her friend Sylvia Plath. She had spent most of her 20s fighting depression and suicidal thoughts, and her therapist suggested she begin to write poetry to help her express her feelings. The suggestion was like a match to paper. Anne Sexton took fire, and wrote obsessively. Within a remarkably short time, she was one of America’s best known poets and had won Anne Sexton is an American poet most famous for her intense, shocking and autobiographical poems and for having committed suicide, much like her friend Sylvia Plath. She had spent most of her 20s fighting depression and suicidal thoughts, and her therapist suggested she begin to write poetry to help her express her feelings. The suggestion was like a match to paper. Anne Sexton took fire, and wrote obsessively. Within a remarkably short time, she was one of America’s best known poets and had won the Pulitzer Prize. She killed herself in 1974, at the height of her career. Published in 1991, Middlebrook’s biography of the poet caused great controversy, primarily because of the use of tapes from Sexton’s sessions with her psychiatrist, and because of details of incest and infidelities contained within those tapes. The inclusion of these tapes, however controversial, makes this an utterly fascinating read. You must check out Youtube videos of Sexton reading her own work – she is utterly compelling:

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    This is a great book. It really makes me feel like I'm right there with Anne and her family. When the book describes her hard at work, writting poem after poem, it's like you are hunched over the typewriter with her. I can no longer just casually pick up this book to read on a lazy day; my head has to be in the right space, but I hope that I'll be able to do that again sometime soon. Perhaps in the summertime when the weather is fine and the sun is shinning I'll make my way back to this lovely b This is a great book. It really makes me feel like I'm right there with Anne and her family. When the book describes her hard at work, writting poem after poem, it's like you are hunched over the typewriter with her. I can no longer just casually pick up this book to read on a lazy day; my head has to be in the right space, but I hope that I'll be able to do that again sometime soon. Perhaps in the summertime when the weather is fine and the sun is shinning I'll make my way back to this lovely book. Well, until then, I'll just have to read some lighter fare while biding my time. I do, however, wholeheartedly encourage anyone who was considering reading this book to do so.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kari

    A fascinating and shocking biography of the controversial poet Anne Sexton. Struggling with complicated mental illness, Sexton began writing poems about her experiences as a form of therapy. She quickly experienced success as her poems were printed in leading publications such as The New Yorker. These poems were at times shocking, brutal and above all confessional. She became one of the leading confessional poets of the 1950s and 1960s along with the likes of Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell. Her A fascinating and shocking biography of the controversial poet Anne Sexton. Struggling with complicated mental illness, Sexton began writing poems about her experiences as a form of therapy. She quickly experienced success as her poems were printed in leading publications such as The New Yorker. These poems were at times shocking, brutal and above all confessional. She became one of the leading confessional poets of the 1950s and 1960s along with the likes of Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell. Her poetry dealt with a number of intimate subjects such as abortion, sexuality and addiction. Through this biography Middlebrook attempts to trace the origins some of these poems whilst taking the reader through Sexton's career and personal life, and the key changes and struggles within it. Despite her illness, this book highlights the determination and hard work she put into her career, revising her work and doing public readings to spread her fame. Middlebrook shows that this was sadly at the detriment of her family, who struggled with her behind the scenes and discusses some shocking aspects such as abuse, addiction and adultery. The book in itself is controversial as Middlebrook had access to Sexton's medical files, tapes and notes. For anyone with an interest in Sexton this is an important book as it goes behind the poetry and the sudden suicide for which is she remembered for. Like Plath, the circumstances of her death should not eclipse her life and her work.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Feeling insane? Read this and feel better about yourself.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    Biographies often inflate their subject or focus on the sensational aspects. The sensational aspects of the subject, mentioned in the book blurb - the incest, the infidelities, the psychiatrist tapes are not the focus of the book. The incest is hedged and takes up just a few pages. The infidelity was an open secret. The author explains at the beginning that initially she thought she'd use the tapes more than she ended up. None of these things are new, they are all Sexton's poems. I typically don Biographies often inflate their subject or focus on the sensational aspects. The sensational aspects of the subject, mentioned in the book blurb - the incest, the infidelities, the psychiatrist tapes are not the focus of the book. The incest is hedged and takes up just a few pages. The infidelity was an open secret. The author explains at the beginning that initially she thought she'd use the tapes more than she ended up. None of these things are new, they are all Sexton's poems. I typically don't read introductions written by another person than the author, but the interest in the tapes led me to read the introduction writen by Sexton's first psychiatrist, Dr. Orne. He offers a very well written assessment of her mental illness. With that out of the way, the author can focus on Sexton's evolution as a poet, performer, and teacher. In all three aspects, Sexton brought something new and deeply personal. Along the way, the author offers concise analysis of Sexton's watershed poems - poems that marked a new step in her growth or that supported those sensational claims. I previously read Linda Sexton's memoir on her mother. As would be expected the biography is better researched, objective, and more factual. Despite being schooled as a poet, Linda doesn't offer much insight into her mom's poems, which she helped revise. Linda does offer more insight into the final year of Anne's life and her final affairs, but downplays and refutes the incest claims. This biography takes a February performance as the grand farewell and diminishes her final working lunch. Linda used another performance from October of the previous year to mark the beginning of the end. Her memoir made it sound like Sexton finished the galleys on her last book and then killed herself very dramatically. The biography has a longer build and makes her suicide more premeditated. Considering that biography came first, I think it is a much better source both factually, as could be expected, and narratively, it's better written. I read this book along side Sexton's poems - moving in chronological order. The problem that the biography doesn't solve is the flurry manuscripts published near the end of Sexton's life - The Book of Folly and The Death Notebooks following on the heels of Transformations do not get their due. Neither does the Awful Rowing or her other posthumous works. The author regards Love Poems and Transformations as her two best works and the works that followed as the beginnings of her decline and not her best. Whereas To Bedlam and Part Way Back and All My Pretty Ones received attention because they demonstrated Sexton's formation and maturation, her later works receive little attention, so it is difficult to appreciate either their craftsmanship or Sexton's decline.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Writer's Relief

    Diane Wood Middlebrook’s ANNE SEXTON: A BIOGRAPHY tells the intricate story of how the poet turned to writing to keep from killing herself. Through detailed therapy notes and transcripts, interviews with friends and colleagues, and personal files and letters, this biography chronicles Sexton’s life from her youth in Massachusetts until the suicide that took her life. Middlebrook explores Sexton’s time as a “socially acceptable” housewife, her disintegration into an abusive mother and seductress, Diane Wood Middlebrook’s ANNE SEXTON: A BIOGRAPHY tells the intricate story of how the poet turned to writing to keep from killing herself. Through detailed therapy notes and transcripts, interviews with friends and colleagues, and personal files and letters, this biography chronicles Sexton’s life from her youth in Massachusetts until the suicide that took her life. Middlebrook explores Sexton’s time as a “socially acceptable” housewife, her disintegration into an abusive mother and seductress, and finally—her transformation into one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. Featuring chapters full of the undeniable focus and passion Sexton put into her work, we see how poetry was more than just a profession: it was Sexton’s entire life. This life’s work soon became some of the most controversial of its time, not only for its confessional nature, but also for its honest and raw portrayals of the female body and feminist ideas. Despite her outbursts of hysteria, battle with schizophrenia, and alcoholism in later life, Sexton was able to create a portfolio that lead to countless praise (not to mention a Pulitzer Prize). If you like a book that is ripe with abuse, deception, infidelity, obsession, rage, seduction, struggle and tragedy—then jump right into this National Book Award-winning biography. An essential read for any fan of Sexton or her contemporaries.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Katie Marquette

    A fascinating read. I recently read Ian Hamilton's biography of Robert Lowell and gave it the same rating, but I think Middlebrook wrote a far better, more detailed biography. Anne Sexton was a complicated woman. She didn't start writing poetry till age 29 ('her rebirth at 29' she called it) and never went to college, although she would go on to receive three honorary doctorates. Her family life was difficult growing up and there is reason to suspect she was sexually abused. I have never been wi A fascinating read. I recently read Ian Hamilton's biography of Robert Lowell and gave it the same rating, but I think Middlebrook wrote a far better, more detailed biography. Anne Sexton was a complicated woman. She didn't start writing poetry till age 29 ('her rebirth at 29' she called it) and never went to college, although she would go on to receive three honorary doctorates. Her family life was difficult growing up and there is reason to suspect she was sexually abused. I have never been wild about Sexton's poetry, although I have always admired her willingness to confront difficult topics. I now have more appreciation for her work, even if I cannot honestly count myself a fan. Sexton was seriously mentally ill for the majority of her adult life. Middlebrook somehow manages to give readers a mostly unbiased view of a very troubled woman. Sexton was a fierce friend and a charming performer, but she was also self centered and overly dramatic. In the end, her suicide seems somewhat unavoidable - she seems to have planned it so well. A gripping read - I'm glad to have gained some valuable insights into Sexton's work and life.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Meghan

    in a lot of ways, anne sexton reminds me of myself... if things had gone much, much worse in my earlier life... and if my issues went unchecked and untreated. she was beautiful, but lived a life full of insecurity, which is what so many of the women i know battle with daily. the so-called "confessional" aspect of her poetry was reinforced by the true-life experiences that fueked this creative, demented mind, making her poetry (which i already loved) come alive with new meaning. this book was beau in a lot of ways, anne sexton reminds me of myself... if things had gone much, much worse in my earlier life... and if my issues went unchecked and untreated. she was beautiful, but lived a life full of insecurity, which is what so many of the women i know battle with daily. the so-called "confessional" aspect of her poetry was reinforced by the true-life experiences that fueked this creative, demented mind, making her poetry (which i already loved) come alive with new meaning. this book was beautifully written, and i enjoyed the multiple perspectives included in the narrative. i espesially like that middlebrook used anne's audiotapes of her therapy sessions to gain insight into a beautiful writer and horribly sick woman. the incest between anne and her daughter made me cringe, and really made me like anne less as a person (unfortunately), but the overall portrait of this invaluable poet made me love poetry so much the more as a method of therapy as well as expression... this book, like anne's poetry, was like an outpouring of the soul.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Gallagher

    Middlebrook is simply a first-rate biographer. She manages to piece together all the ragged threads of Anne Sexton's life and work: the possible sexual abuse as a child, the postpartum depression that led to her first hospitalization, the affairs, the alcoholism, the immense talent and the galloping madness that would ultimately take the poet's life in 1974. There is so much background information here: Anne's surviving family, her doctors and her fellow poet-friends all provide much needed and Middlebrook is simply a first-rate biographer. She manages to piece together all the ragged threads of Anne Sexton's life and work: the possible sexual abuse as a child, the postpartum depression that led to her first hospitalization, the affairs, the alcoholism, the immense talent and the galloping madness that would ultimately take the poet's life in 1974. There is so much background information here: Anne's surviving family, her doctors and her fellow poet-friends all provide much needed and valuable background. But key to fleshing out Anne are the recordings she and her doctors agreed to make, as Anne would "fugue" out after most psychiatrict sessions. These recordins allowed her to listen back and make notes and understand her experiences, but they also allow us to understand this pivotal and profoundly damaged woman and the poetry she created.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dorothée

    I really enjoyed this insightful biography of one of my favourite poets. Although I do think it could have explored her actual poems a bit more and perhaps provide a schedule of her daily life, it was filled with many interesting and important details (highlighted by the extensive bibliography & sources used). I think I read somewhere that this is one of the most accurate biographies of Anne Sexton which I guess is true because Middlebrook evidently made sure to get in touch with as many peo I really enjoyed this insightful biography of one of my favourite poets. Although I do think it could have explored her actual poems a bit more and perhaps provide a schedule of her daily life, it was filled with many interesting and important details (highlighted by the extensive bibliography & sources used). I think I read somewhere that this is one of the most accurate biographies of Anne Sexton which I guess is true because Middlebrook evidently made sure to get in touch with as many people of Sexton's live as possible. The book was excellent in terms of structure and very quick to read. I'd certainly recommend it to anyone interested not only in Sexton, but also in other poets of her time. :)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    An absolutely mesmerizing biography--the best I feel I've ever read. Middlebrook deftly captures all that is dark and light, horrible and laudable, about Anne Sexton and arranges a remarkably coherent narrative of such a difficult figure. My absolute favorite part of the book is Middlebrook's descriptions of Sexton's writing process. She explains quite well how a mad housewife could transform herself into a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. I wish I had read this book a decade ago. Also, Anne Sexton An absolutely mesmerizing biography--the best I feel I've ever read. Middlebrook deftly captures all that is dark and light, horrible and laudable, about Anne Sexton and arranges a remarkably coherent narrative of such a difficult figure. My absolute favorite part of the book is Middlebrook's descriptions of Sexton's writing process. She explains quite well how a mad housewife could transform herself into a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. I wish I had read this book a decade ago. Also, Anne Sexton far out shines Sylvia Plath in imagination, language, and wit, in my opinion.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kitty with Curls

    One of my grandmother's oldest friends was Sexton's closest friend at Smith & afterward. Also knew Plath & J.C. Oates. Now she has disappeared & won't talk to anyone from the old days, especially writers. I don't blame her at all. Other than that, I really enjoyed the description of the end of AS's life, especially what happened to her teaching & how her students responded to her disintegration.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Aishah

    This biography acted as my main reference when analysing a number of Sexton's poems. It's extremely comprehensive, and Middlebrook's writing truly captures the delicate intricacy of Sexton's life. I'd recommend this to anyone who's wanting to understand Sexton's poems in greater context.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Valissa

    "I am torn in two, but I will conquer myself. I will take scissors and cut out the beggar. I will take a crowbar and pry out the broken pieces of God in me."

  19. 5 out of 5

    Georgina

    In Britain Anne Sexton is the American poetess who is still unfairly cast in the shadow of Sylvia Plath. This biography was published nearly 30 years ago within a wave of new publications that reappraised Plath’s poetry through the lens of psychoanalytical theory. Yet here with Sexton, Diane Wood Middlebrooks unique task was placing her poetry in relation to Sexton’s actual psychoanalytical therapy tape recordings; recordings that the poet’s estate gave Middlebrook full access to. Even now this In Britain Anne Sexton is the American poetess who is still unfairly cast in the shadow of Sylvia Plath. This biography was published nearly 30 years ago within a wave of new publications that reappraised Plath’s poetry through the lens of psychoanalytical theory. Yet here with Sexton, Diane Wood Middlebrooks unique task was placing her poetry in relation to Sexton’s actual psychoanalytical therapy tape recordings; recordings that the poet’s estate gave Middlebrook full access to. Even now this still seems challenging in a genre that traditionally draws upon letters, journals and gossip. This use of the tape recordings is quickly explained by author and analyst in the foreword of the biography- and they lay the groundwork for the intriguing thread of Sexton’s career. Her career began aged 30 in the suburbs of New England, taking up poetry at the suggestion of her analyst Dr Martin Orne. From this point it is a fascinating and meteoric rise and Middlebrook as a poet herself, has kept a good balance between tracing the intensity of Sexton’s personal life and the careful details of her poetry. What comes through is a woman who both grappled with her mental health and as a highly gifted poet. The biography owes much to Sextons family friends and poet colleagues, yet with the recent rediscovery of a cache of unseen early poems it seems high time to reappraise Sexton’s legacy. Though Middlebrooks biography still stands out in the measured and thorough way it has ventured into the choppy waters of her psychoanalysis recordings, the thirty years since could bring new perspectives to her life an work. In fact what is fascinating about Plath’s legacy is the many ways in which it has been reappraised - and Anne Sexton is entirely deserving of the same.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Becky Osmon

    A well-written, researched and thoughtful account of a complicated woman's life. I remember the first time I read one of Sexton's poems (in a highschool english class in the 90s) - I'd never read anything like it - so raw and emotional and angry. And then to learn that she was a housewife without advanced education who didn't start writing until after she had kids was pretty inspiring. But now I can't separate her art from the woman that she was (from more recent accounts it sounds like this boo A well-written, researched and thoughtful account of a complicated woman's life. I remember the first time I read one of Sexton's poems (in a highschool english class in the 90s) - I'd never read anything like it - so raw and emotional and angry. And then to learn that she was a housewife without advanced education who didn't start writing until after she had kids was pretty inspiring. But now I can't separate her art from the woman that she was (from more recent accounts it sounds like this book downplayed sexual abuse of at least one of her daughters). Kill your heroes, I guess?

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nicola Pierce

    Pure genius - both the poet and her biographer. Actually, this may well be the best written and most intelligent biography I've ever read. Middlebrook's research is impeccable as is her own interpretations of facts, figures and poetry. She brings her all to this telling of the 'mad' life of Anne Sexton whilst keeping herself firmly in the background. Just brilliant! And I really appreciated the smattering of photographs throughout.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lee Yahnker

    Way too detailed. I like biographies but found the way through this book was to skip the part about her poems. I’m surprised she was able to keep her affairs secret from her husband. As it was I skimmed the last 100 pages.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lorelei Rhine

    Middlebrook is my favorite biographer, I am sad that the world no longer will get to explore new works.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kurt

    Incredibly fascinating biography.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Haleigh

    Well crafted writing. Hate/love relationship with Anne sexton now, but really enlightening

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    A hard one.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christian Engler

    Diane Wood Middlebrook's biography of Anne Sexton was balanced and insightful enough so as not to be too intrusive; it is simple and direct, as I believe this biography ought to be. It could be much more. True. But that would somehow seem indecent. It is a written work that will tantalize many readers to want to know more of Sexton's earlier life and later chaotic often disgusting behavior. Anne Sexton did indeed have some major psychological problems. She envied Sylvia Plath's suicide and infli Diane Wood Middlebrook's biography of Anne Sexton was balanced and insightful enough so as not to be too intrusive; it is simple and direct, as I believe this biography ought to be. It could be much more. True. But that would somehow seem indecent. It is a written work that will tantalize many readers to want to know more of Sexton's earlier life and later chaotic often disgusting behavior. Anne Sexton did indeed have some major psychological problems. She envied Sylvia Plath's suicide and inflicted mental abuse on her family that trangressed the boundries of chaotic. She has often been criticized for the themes that she used in her poetry: her mental breakdowns, her severe shortcomings as a wife and mother, her liberal use of female bodily sexuality, her 'womanism' and other scattered amorphous problems that she endured but that is not fully covered with very much depth in this work. To deny Sexton's mentle problems or attribute her abhorrent behavior to simple staments that she 'wanted attention' is to cast away the deamons that led her to commit suicide in the first place or write the highly noted poems "The Operation" in All My Pretty Ones, for which she garnered a National Book Award nomination or "Mother And Jack And The Rain" or "Menstruation At Forty" in Live or Die, for which she won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. This biography has also been condemmed for the use of private conversations that Sexton had with her psychiatrist, Dr. Martin Orne, a fact that had and still does many in the profession gravely unhappy. In the forward and book jacket to The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton by her friend and fellow poet, Maxine Kumin, she states: "The stuff of Anne's life, mercilessly dissected, is here in the poems. Of all the confessional poets, none has had quite Sexton's 'courage to make a clean breast of it' ...Anne Sexton has earned her place in the cannon." Whatever her morals (or lack of them) or major priorities which always came second, she was one hell of a fantastic, little understood poet who truly added something unique to the genre.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Kester

    A great book that goes into detail about Anne Sexton's psychology through talking with her therapists and friends. A beautiful woman, Anne Sexton was a model before she married and had two daughters. She began taking a poetry class and used poetry as a tool to work through her emotional problems. She eventually killed herself and this book goes into detail about how troubled she was. She believed she had been sexually molested by her father and this effected her whole life. Her relationship wi A great book that goes into detail about Anne Sexton's psychology through talking with her therapists and friends. A beautiful woman, Anne Sexton was a model before she married and had two daughters. She began taking a poetry class and used poetry as a tool to work through her emotional problems. She eventually killed herself and this book goes into detail about how troubled she was. She believed she had been sexually molested by her father and this effected her whole life. Her relationship with her husband was very tumultuous. This was before women's liberation and I don't think her therapist did her any favors in telling her it was her fault for the way her husband treated her. He was abusive and the therapist tried to "help" Anne by trying to discover how she provoked him or was manipulating the situation. Anne also had an eating disorder the book doesn't talk much about. She used laxatives and probably other means to control her weight. It talks about her lesbian affair and a little bit about her affair with James Wright, who loved her and wrote the poem about her called "A Blessing," which is one of the most beautiful love poems ever written in my opinion.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bill Yates

    The book is candid, well researched, and well written, but be prepared for the description of a very sordid life. The question that remains unanswered is, what came first, Anne's mental illness or her bad behavior? Did her mental illness cause her to seek refuge in alcohol, chain smoking, pills, and promiscuous sex, or did those habits feed her mental derangement? Anne was in psychotherapy for most of her adult life. Talk therapy was greatly in vogue back then. It has been proven ineffective in The book is candid, well researched, and well written, but be prepared for the description of a very sordid life. The question that remains unanswered is, what came first, Anne's mental illness or her bad behavior? Did her mental illness cause her to seek refuge in alcohol, chain smoking, pills, and promiscuous sex, or did those habits feed her mental derangement? Anne was in psychotherapy for most of her adult life. Talk therapy was greatly in vogue back then. It has been proven ineffective in curing or even alleviating psychosis. The counselling which Anne received during her "therapy" probably helped her cope to some extent, and the Freudian explorations of her family life fed into her creative efforts. The author of the book seemed to find resonance with Freudian analysis, even though the only thing that helps a psychotic is medication. Paying $200 an hour for talk therapy is nothing but a scam. It didn't prevent Anne Sexton's eventual suicide.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ilze

    Diane Middlebrook knows her subject well, and Linda Gray Sexton (Anne’s daughter) attests to that in her book entitled 45 Mercy Street: A Journey back to my Mother: Anne Sexton. She might’ve received a lot of flack from the media because she not only revealed the identity of dr Martin Orne, who saw Anne for years, but also the contents of some of the tapes that were used during Anne’s therapy. Middlebrook knew how to be sensitive about her subject and so doesn’t reveal “too much”. In fact, th Diane Middlebrook knows her subject well, and Linda Gray Sexton (Anne’s daughter) attests to that in her book entitled 45 Mercy Street: A Journey back to my Mother: Anne Sexton. She might’ve received a lot of flack from the media because she not only revealed the identity of dr Martin Orne, who saw Anne for years, but also the contents of some of the tapes that were used during Anne’s therapy. Middlebrook knew how to be sensitive about her subject and so doesn’t reveal “too much”. In fact, the reader obtains a balanced view of an ill, but talented woman. For anyone interested in doing a study of this poet, this is a must read (and the only one available about Anne Sexton's life).

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